49 pages 1 hour read

Zadie Smith


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2012

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Character Analysis

Leah Hanwell

While the plot of NW is built around the relationship between Leah and Keisha/Natalie, the first part of the novel is devoted to exploring Leah’s perspective on the world. Outwardly, Leah’s life looks put together, if not particularly exciting. Her modest but steady job helping distribute funds to charities suits her socially conscious personality, she finds her devoted husband Michel beautiful, and she has a stable network of family and friends in northwest London.

Inwardly, however, Leah’s life is in turmoil. In particular, she feels constantly at odds with Michel’s can-do attitude and desire to get ahead in life and start a family. Leah experiences an existential crisis, going through the motions of life more than being motivated by anything concrete. Though she believes in others, Leah is fundamentally unsure of herself.

Within the novel’s plot, Leah’s character sharpens Natalie’s own set of existential issues and demonstrates how pervasive the challenges of life in NW are. The novel’s attention to Leah and Natalie’s backstory demonstrates that the crises of identity that the characters face are not simply a matter of adults feeling unhappy. Instead, they are an almost inescapable aspect of modern life, from childhood on.